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Martin Luther King Day - New York

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2014

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(12 hours before tip)

Let me start with this.

It's true...I'm not, you know, real good with the early starts.

We're all different, of course. There are morning people, and afternoon people and night people. And whether it's genetic, or behavioral, or whatever, someone made me the latter. In fact, come to think of it, I'm not completely sure I didn't choose this particular line of work because of the hours. Where going to bed at 4 a.m. is run-of-the-mill and 7 a.m. wakeup calls are the start of a day of mainlining Red Bull.

And I suppose this day and age has become more hour-generic. The latest Britney Spears visit with the paparazzi is just as available at 5 a.m. as it is at 5 p.m. And Tom Cruise acting like Martian can be yours on YouTube 24 hours a day. It's a wonderful world.

Now Max loves these games, the ones like today's 1 p.m. start in New York. Mostly, because he knows I'm at my weakest earlier in the day and his normally ineffective, couldn't-break-an-egg verbal jabs tend to hit their target with greater regularity while the sun is still up.

And for the sake of today's discussion, I'll put aside the dichotomy of the treatment us night people get. That if you go to bed at 11 o'clock, and get up at six the next morning, you're considered a go-getter and a coffee achiever, not to mention the whole healthy, wealthy and wise thing. But if you go to bed at 4 in the morning, and don't get up 'til 10:30, you're lazy, and a blemish on society, undoubtedly destined to work alongside Danny Noonan in the lumberyard.

Perhaps, my nocturnal brothers and sisters, we'll revisit that.

But here's the truth, every day is an honor to be in the NBA.

It really is.

But none more than today.

A year ago, the Celtics were in Atlanta on this day, seventy-eight years after Martin Luther King was born there. It was pretty cool.

His name invokes different images to different people across the country and across the world. Across every line that he tried so successfully to blur. Generational, cultural and racial.

Of course, it's unlikely that of all his visions, one was ever a national day to honor his memory, a day which the NBA has adopted as its own. A national holiday around the league of matinees and celebrations to shine the spotlight the league has earned back on a man whose ideas outdistanced his life.

And that's an honor the NBA has earned, as a league where diversity isn't a distant concept, it's the reality.

Now to say Dr. King's dream was far bigger than the game, and the sport, and the league of which we're all a part of today, well, that would be one of the great understatements of the young millennium. But to say there's no correlation, no connection between the two? That's just not looking hard enough.

Dr. King's dream was that one day blacks and whites would play together. His dream was that a man would one day be judged by the content of his character, or his jump shot, or the things he brought to his world, not by the color of his skin. And his gift was delivering that most basic human message in a way that changed the world.

The lessons of this day are all around us, even now. Even here, today, at Madison Square Garden.

Six months ago, a national sports media figure tried to play what we've all been trained to call the "race card," in reference to Kevin Garnett's hesitation to be dealt to Boston. It was a reminder that there will always be people whose minds don't change with the times. A reminder that there will always be people that hang on to old perceptions and stereotypes and ideologies. Unable to see things in present day real-time.

Drinking from what Dr. King called "the cup of bitterness and hatred."

But as KG takes the floor at MSG this afternoon, wearing the green number five jersey, the same jersey you can't walk ten feet in Boston without seeing, it seems worthy of remembering that this is a love affair born of his passion for the game, the true content of his character. What could be more pure?

Boston's history is just that, its history. Major League Baseball celebrated the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut last year, rather than mourning the sixty years that came before it. We have to learn from history, not re-live it. Fight the injustices that remain in our time, and neither harp on those that came before us or rest on the laurels of our progress.

In many ways, professional sports, and the NBA, can be life in a bubble. High salaries, private planes and a world that exists largely behind velvet ropes. And with the NBA's record of race-relations and community activism, we could take this day to pat ourselves on the back in a self-aggrandizing curtain call. But that's the easy way. And the easy way and the right way almost never seem to be one and the same.

We can't and we won't bury our heads, and pretend the journey that Dr. King lived for -- the journey he died for -- is anywhere close to the finish line. Not in a world where the Jena 6 stand trial, and in a week in which the cover of Golfweek magazine is a noose. We can't live in that bubble.

But we can keep setting the pace, and we can keep setting an example, by being a place where humanity is celebrated, not degraded. A place where those who succeed are those who sacrifice for the greater good.

So on this day of celebration, why not take a moment to both appreciate and be proud of our place, of sports' place, of the NBA's place in the world. Proudest especially when it leads society in race relations, rather than follows it.

It may not be the mountain top, but the view is pretty damn good.

Even first thing in the morning.